Thursday, April 30, 2015

More details emerge about Cortex-A72 CPU core

Recently, more details have become available about the performance improvements implemented in ARM's Cortex-A72 core, which is a replacement for the high-performance Cortex-A57 core. Apart from the gains from using a more advanced process such as 14/16 nm FinFET, Cortex-A72 also implements fairly significant micro-architectural improvements affecting performance per cycle and power efficiency. AnandTech has published a detailed overview of these improvements.

Cortex-A57 based on Cortex-A15 and not fully optimized for power-efficiency

The Cortex-A57 CPU core, which was announced in 2012, has significant similarities to Cortex-A15, ARM's long-standing high-performance 32-bit CPU core, which has been known for relatively high power consumption. As such, it is not unexpected that improvements on the Cortex-A57 architecture (in the form of the Cortex-A72) have proven to be possible. Cortex-A57-based SoCs  such as Snapdragon 810 have been known to throttle, being forced to reduce the clock speed due to excessive heat production and power use, resulting in reduced sustained performance. Apple's A7 and A8 processors use CPU cores that most likely have strong similarities with Cortex-A57, but which exhibit little throttling due to a lower maxium clock speed, a lower number of cores and other factors related to the the chip design.

Increased level of sustained performance

ARM has made available a number of slides detailing the improvements in sustained performance and power efficiency in Cortex-A72 over Cortex-A57. On a 28 nm process and similar clock speed, ARM's charts indicate a roughly 20% improvement in power reduction. 

Sustained performance is expected to be higher than Cortex-A57, implementations of which (such as Snapdragon 810 and Exynos 5433, and to a lesser degree Exynos 7420) have suffered from an inability to maintain high clock speeds and throttle back to a relatively low speed due to heat production and associated power consumption. ARM gives a figure of sustained 750 mW operation per core on a 16FF+ process with a clock speed around 2.5 GHz.

In terms of IPC (instructions per cycle), ARM's information shows improvements in all instruction-level performance segments, with a 1.16x improvement for "analytics", 1.38x for cryptography, 1.50x for memory, 1.26x for floating point and 1.16 for integer compute. The increase in memory performance appears to be significant.

Improved single-core performance evident in early Geekbench results

Early Geekbench results for the MT8173 SoC from MediaTek, which includes two Cortex-A72 cores, give an indication of practical peformance of the Cortex-A72 core, although the exact clock speed the Cortex-A72 cores are running at is hard to determine. The following table shows single-core performance from a recent MT8173 Geekbench entry, comparing it to Exynos 7420 as used in the Samsung Galaxy S6. Both use 64-bit AArch64 mode.

SoC                        JPEG   Dijkstra  Lua   Mandelb. Stream SGEMM SFFT
                           Compr.                          Copy
28nm? MT8173 (Cortex-A72)  1429    1287     1675  1750     2217    979  1345
14nm Exynos 7420           1475    1082     1409  1147     1993    954  1379
The MT8173 easily matches the single-core performance of Exynos 7420, while showing significant improvements in the Mandelbrot floating point subtest and the memory-intensive Dijkstra subtest, and also the Lua subtest. Memory subtest (Stream Copy) performance is also better than Exynos 7420, despite the likely much wider memory interface of the latter, providing clear evidence of the improved memory performance (largely due to smarter prefetching) in Cortex-A72. Overall, since the MT8173 results reflects a SoC using 28 mn or perhaps 20 nm process technology, while Exynos 7420 uses Samsung's leading-edge 14 nm FinFET process, the ability of the MT8173 to beat Exynos 7420 in single-core performance while using a less advanced process is impressive and illustrates the performance improvements in the Cortex-A72 core.

Reduced silicon area results in lower cost

Cortex-A72 has a silicon area that is 10% smaller than Cortex-A57 on an equivalent process, while delivering improvements in performance and power efficiency. Already SoCs have been announced or described that utilize Cortex-A72 cores, such as MediaTek's MT8173 for tablets, Qualcomm's Snapdragon 618 and 620 for smartphones, and MediaTek's MT6797 (Helio-X20) for smartphones.

There seems to be a clear trend of using just two Cortex-A72 cores (instead of the four cores used in many Cortex-A57 implementations), reducing cost and maximum power consumption. These are cores are augmented by low-power, small-area Cortex-A53 cores running at a lower frequency. MT8173, Snapdragon 618 and Helio-X20 all use such as configuration.

Use of Cortex-A72 may be more effective than high-clocked Cortex-A53 cores

There are indications that Cortex-A53 cores running at a high frequency (such as implemented in MediaTek's MT6752 and MT6795 (Helio-X10), HiSilicon's Kirin 930 and to a lesser degree in Snapdragon 615 and the announced Snapdragon 415 and 420) run into a power efficiency bottleneck at higher clock speed, due the relatively steep increase in power consumption as the clock speed of the Cortex-A53 core increases above 1.3-1.5 GHz. Solutions that combine a small number of Cortex-A72 with lower-clocked, power efficient Cortex-A53 cores may prove to be a sweet spot in terms of practical performance and power efficiency for mid-range SoCs.

Source: AnandTech (Cortex-A72 Architecture Details article), Geekbench Browser


Unknown said...

The A7 and A8 have literally nothing in common with the A15 or A53 apart from using the same instruction set.

The A8 has extremely high ipc, super wide bus and a deep pipeline, far more complex than your A15/A53 which has half the ipc. Its single threaded performance blows any other mobile processor out of the water, thus the extreme consistency and responsiveness in the ios UI.

It is clocked low to keep the power consumption at reasonable levels. The beauty of the soc design is the fact that the custom cores can be clocked as low as 1.2 ghz while still giving performance better than an A57 based design.

Marc said...

I'm think the point of the author is that the Cortex A15/A57/A72 (out-of-order) have much more in common with the A7/A8/A9 (out-of-order) than with the Cortex A7/A53 (in-order).

Anonymous said...

Sheep's reading comprehension is often challenged as you know. They sure love to bark, though.